PRC Middle School teachers bringing science to life
Published 7:00 am Friday, January 20, 2017
Too often grade school teachers hear the statement, “Why do we have to know this?” from their students. To answer their question and bring the learning environment to life, Pearl River Central Middle School science teacher Karen Boutwell, and other science teachers at the school, received multiple grants in the past couple of years to benefit the science club and classes.
Recently, they received an Aerojet Rocketdyne Foundation grant in the amount of $500 to help purchase supplies for students interested in competing in the upcoming regional and state Science Olympiad competitions, Boutwell said. Last year, PRCMS was awarded the Spirit Award at the Science Olympiad, which is given to only one school district per state each year.
The school receives funding for essentials like textbooks and other classroom needs from the district, but what isn’t funded is lab equipment and everything else used outside of the classroom.
“Of course the students should spend some time in the classroom learning through textbooks, but what will inspire them to pursue a career in something like this is to take them outside and let them experience what we are learning head on,” Boutwell said.
The supplies the grant will fund includes parts for robotics, items for crime busters and forensics, materials for rocks and minerals and model wind power and bridge and tower building materials, she said.
In 2015, Boutwell received the Leo W. Seal Innovative Teacher Grant to fund an outdoor classroom, which Boutwell said is currently used to teach botany and environmental studies as well as many other topics including poetry classes so the students can “gain inspiration,” she said.
Boutwell said teaching complex concepts like the greenhouse effect, genetic engineering, selective breeding and the nitrogen cycle with worksheets can be boring for students. This led her, and other PRCMS science teachers, to apply for a grant to assemble an outdoor classroom with tables, umbrellas and a greenhouse.
“This is natural learning at its best,” Boutwell said.
Taking what students learn in the classroom and applying it to real-life experiences engages students in a way worksheets cannot, PRCMS science teacher Elizabeth Zeringue said.
The outdoor classroom and greenhouse are used by the science classes to offer hands on experience of genetically modified plants, hydroponics, photosynthesis, the carbon/oxygen cycle and also teach students the science behind planting a variety of seeds—including ingredients such as basil, green onion, zucchini and tomatoes—that will eventually be used to make a spaghetti lunch at the end of the year, Boutwell said.
Boutwell, Zenringue and PRCMS science teacher Sherra Allen, also co-wrote and received an International Paper grant for $5,000, which will fund Chromebooks for students to use to research projects associated with the outside classroom, Zenringue said.
The remaining funds will be allocated to further enhance the outdoor classroom with things such as soil, gardening supplies, benches and a walking path, Boutwell said.
To give students a real-life perspective on what they are learning, Boutwell regularly invites guest speakers, such as Mark Glorioso, executive director of NASA Shared Services Center, for physics lessons; Michael McDaniel, general manager of Aerojet Rocketdyne at Stennis Space Center, for space exploration lessons and Christine Powell, an electrical engineer, for liquid nitrogen lessons.
“Teaching the students hands-on or giving them the opportunity to learn about certain topics from people in that business gives them the opportunity to be inspired, which should be every teacher’s goal,” Boutwell said.